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Bridgewater V Leahy: A Detailed Analysis


Task: Provide a detailed report on the case study of Bridgewater v Leahy


Executive summary
The concept of Unconscionability regarding Business Law is thoroughly covered under the case of Bridgewater v Leahy. By reviewing this case study, every aspect of the Unconscionability could be understood. It is to protect from the exploitation of the weaker party via implementing the unfair bargaining power that the concept of the unconscionable bargain was introduced into the discipline of Business Law. The instance of unconscionable dealing considers the situation that one of the parties engaged in the exchange is specifically disabled, which will include being situated particularly in a disadvantageous position (Ricket, 2012).
Bridgewater v Leahy (B12 – 1998) [1998] HCA 66

Bridgewater v Leahy

The details of Bridgewater v Leahy lay down the disadvantageous aspect of the unconscionable dealings by referring to the strong emotional relationship between a nephew (Niel) and his uncle (Bill). Bill died in 1989 who was throughout his life a grazier in Walumbilla. Leahy, the plaintiff, was one of the four daughters of Bill. The IRAC method used in this report on Bridgewater v Leahy case analyses the legality of transferring the property of Bill to Neil (Youngest son of Bill’s brother, Sam). The ruling made under the Bridgewater v Leahy case study has widened the concept of unconscionable dealings.

Bridgewater v Leahy

The core underlying issue in the case of Bridgewater v Leahy is whether the concept of Unconscionability is applicable in the scenario when the property of the uncle is transferred to the nephew.

Taking into account the issue in the case study of Bridgewater v Leahy, the unconscionable transaction could not be deemed to be taken place in between the uncle (Bill) and the nephew (Neil). It has already been stated that the nephew was for a long time involved in the business of uncle, who has no children. The nephew was treated the same as a son by the uncle, and thus the instance of strong dependence could be justified under the context of special disadvantage in the unconscious bargain. The transaction could not be brought under question if the dictating party proves it that the transaction was impartial, just, and fair [Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd v Amadio (1983) 151 CLR 447, Justice Mason]. It is based upon the factors like age, sex, drunkenness, and illiteracy of the person that the existence of unconscionable dealing is determined [Blomley v Ryan (1956) 99 CLR 362, Justice Fullagar]. The case of Bridgewater v Leahy was well highlighted by the role of drunkenness in the existence of unconscionable bargaining. In the similar case of Louth v Diprose (1992) 175 CLR 621, the jurisdiction has found the party guilty of an unconscionable deal since they created an unfavourable ambience raising the threat of suicide.

Major issues in the case of Bridgewater v Leahy

  • The Uncle (Bill) had never taken any legal advice from others before drafting the will.
  • The only included parties while signing the will were Bill and Neil, could the act be considered as an unconscionable deal?
  • Could there be levied some additional charges on Neil so that the impartiality the plaintiffs has faced should be covered as mentioned under the deed of 1998/

The defending party is required to prove before the court that the existing contract or agreement is because of the unconscionable approach or conduct. The conventions of the Test of causation should be implied by the party to serve the cause. The context of Bridgewater v Leahy affirms that the uncle was in sound mind and well conscious while making the transaction or contract. The jury had found no evidence to state that the uncle was intoxicated or induced by Nephew to commence the false transfer of the property (Keene and Leslie, 2011).

The concept of equity is to be taken into account when we arrive at the application section of case Bridgewater v Leahy. The legal applicability of the context under this case could only be described by relying on the Principle of Equity. The concept of equity provides relief to the implication of the mentioned context. “Those who pursue equity must ensure equity” is one of the conventions in the application of the law. The fundamental principle lying under the context of equitable relief was further expanded by the court under Vasdaz v Pioneer Concrete (SA) Pty Ltd (1995) 184 CLR 102. The court has ascertained the sound existence of equity in the case of Bridgewater v Leahy by referring to the fact that the agreement between the nephew and the uncle was undertaken Inter-Vivos with a conscious and sound mind (Hepburn and Bigwood, 2013).

From the discussion conducted, it could be ascertained that there was no existence of overpowering or unfair transactions that could be classified as an unconscionable deal. The jury has supported the rescission of the agreement by the majority of 3: 2 by considering the conventions of the interventions of equity. On these grounds, the plea to terminate the contract was rejected by Justice Callinan, Gaudron, Kirby, and Gummow. It was precisely ruled in the case of Bridgewater v Leahy that the nephew was not involved in any sort of unconscionable deal with his uncle.

The case of Bridgewater v Leahy is considered to be the milestone in the expansion of the concept of Unconscionable dealings. The case has explored the new aspect of the topic and thus suggested modern legal implications of it in similar cases. The new terms like taking advantage and special disability were defined by the Bridgewater v Leahy casein in the context of the unconscionable bargain. These new elements were contributed by the jury members Kirby, Gummow, and Gaudron. The final verdict of the case states that the nephew should be vindicated from the charge of conducting deliberate and reasoned unconscionable bargain with his uncle (Gooley, Radan and Vickovich, 2007). The case of Bridgewater v Leahy is one of such instances where the high liberty in decision making is implied by the High Court. The scholars from the discipline still state the counter-argument that the court had failed to analyze the level of correlativity in the relationship between defendant and plaintiff. Certain aspects of the unconscionable bargain could have been revealed by the court in the verdict of Bridgewater v Leahy by the jury. The definition of terms like special ability was still under ambiguity. The use of terms like emotional dependence is analyzed to be a very sneaky term by the scholars. The term emotional dependence could interpret the existing healthy relationship between Neil and Bill as a very malicious and suspicious one. The finding of the court that the person with a special disability could be influenced easily rather than a person with emotional dependence seems quite partial.

Bigwood, R., 2013. Kakavas v. Crown Melbourne LTD; Still Curbing Unconscionability: Kakavas in the High Court of Australia. Melb. UL Rev., 37, p.463.

Galloway, K., 2010. Analyzing conscience as the mediating concept between the free market and consumer protection in Queensland land transactions. James Cook UL Rev., 17, p.83.

Gooley, J.V., Radan, P. and Vickovich, I., 2007. Principles of Australian Contract Law: Cases and Materials. LexisNexis Butterworths.

Hepburn, S., 2013. Principles of Equity & Trusts (Aus) 2/e. Routledge.

Keene, A. and Leslie, S., 2011. But Where's the Contract-A Tribute to Professor David McLaughlan. Victoria U. Wellington L. Rev., 42, p.3.

Rickett, C.E.F., 2012. Bridgewater v Leagy-A Bridge too Far. U. Queensland LJ, 31, p.233.


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